Political watchers have outlined underground reasons for Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki’s opposition to the position of the Nigerian Army and the Southeast governors on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Saraki had Monday shocked the nation when he described the proscription and declaration of IPOB as a ‘terrorist organization’ as unconstitutional and illegal.
The military had declared IPOB a terrorist organization just as the Southeast governors proscribed the group to douse tension caused by their activities in the region.
Barely 72 hours after the military and the governors took their positions, Saraki in his first official reaction, said: “I wish to state that the announcement of the proscription of the group known as IPOB by governors of the Southeast states and the categorization of the group as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the Nigerian military are unconstitutional and does not follow due process.
“Our laws make clear provisions for taking such actions and without the due process being followed, such declaration cannot have effect. I am sure the president will do the needful by initiating the right process. This will go a long way in demonstrating to the world at large that we are a country that operates by laid down process under every circumstance. So, those who have been hammering on this point should maintain their cool.”
The statement created uproar in security circles, among his colleagues in the senate and in the polity in general.
Impeccable sources at the National Assembly said the reasons Saraki for which took the position were far from the procedural issues he adduced.
Daily Trust learned that the issue of violation of due process which he hinged his opposition on was nothing but a smokescreen.
One of the sources, a senator, said the senate president took the position following pressure from Southeast senators who are his support base at the Upper chamber.
Saraki rode on the strength of the opposition senators mostly from the Southeast to emerge the senate president on June 9,2015 when the National Assembly was inaugurated.
His romance with the opposition senators led to the clinching of the Deputy Senate President’s seat by Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP,Enugu).
The senator said: “Saraki issued the statement because of the pressure from Ekweremadu and other Southeast senators who constitute his support base. I think it was because of the pressure they mounted on him. He bowed to it because he does not want to lose their support.
“Believe me, it’s more of political consideration than the procedural flaw he raised. We are not happy with him at all. If the issue is raised when we resume, we will shame him.”
Another senator said for Saraki to describe the decision as illegal meant that there were more things to it than the issue of due process.
The ranking senator said: “Saraki should have focused on the issue of procedure ( due process) but for him to go as far as describing it as unconstitutional means he has an ulterior motive”.
He added: “But what I can assure you is that he is on his own. We are in total support of the categorization and even the military intervention in the Southeast. He should stop playing politics with it. But the procedures of categorization in line with the Terrorism Prevention Act should be followed.”
Another source who also wants to remain anonymous for now, said the reason Saraki took what he described as the ‘deadly’ position was for 2019 with the sole aim of garnering the support of the Southeast.
“Like one of his political mentors in the person of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, Saraki is aligning himself with the course of the Southeast because of 2019. You know Atiku has been an ardent promoter of restructuring in the country, a brainchild of the southerners,” he said.
To douse tension among his colleagues, Saraki has been holding marathon meetings. He started with the Southeast Senators on Tuesday and was said to have met with northern senators on Thursday.
It was hours after Saraki met with the Southeast senators that they issued a communiqué rejecting the categorization of IPOB as a terrorist organization.
In the communique jointly signed by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP,Abia) and Chukwuka Onyema, the Igbo lawmakers said: “We condemn all acts of terrorism. In the case of IPOB, we reject the branding of any organisation in Nigeria without cause or following due process where such cause does exist.
“We take this position because of the implication of such branding on innocent citizens from the area who may be affected by the consequences. This branding, we believe, will foreclose any dialogue that will bring about a peaceful end to the activities of such group”.
Contacted, the spokesman of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi said the senate president was not in any way against the categorization of IPOB as a terrorist organization, saying, “All he was saying is that the procedure should be followed.”
Explaining further, a top source in Saraki’s office said the position of the senate president was not politically motivated, but was rather to douse tension created in the country by the military operation in the Southeast.
“No, it is not politically motivated, what are the entire votes of the Southeast that we will throw away the North for? Oga took the position solely in the interest of the unity of the country and nothing more. That’s why he devoted five paragraphs in the statement to preach peace.
“It is just like when an armed robber is arrested and people are saying he should be killed, that is jungle justice and someone says he should be taken to court for him to be tried and possibly sentenced to death. They are all saying the same thing but the other person wants justice to prevail,” he said. He said the senate president was moved by the outcry that trailed the announcement.
“If Oga had wanted to play politics with it, he would not say the procedures should be followed, he would say they should not categorize the organization at all. When Boko Haram was declared a terrorist organization, the procedure was followed,” he added.
On Atiku, he said: “Oga has no business with him. Do you think the position Atiku is looking for Oga is not interested in it? At the peak of Oga’s Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) saga, did Atiku support him?”
Defending Atiku, his political associate, Alhaji Muhammadu Abdullahi Sugar said Atiku’s stand on the issue was misconstrued.
“When Yar’Adua was the president, he succeeded in taming the agitation in the Southsouth when he listened to them and addressed some of their plights. So, what Atiku is saying is that they should be listened to and the genuine among the issues they raised should be addressed,” he said.
He stressed that Atiku was totally against anything that would tear the country apart, adding the unity and development of the country was paramount to him.
“It is not a fact that Atiku is supporting the Southeast to break-up the country, Atiku is a key promoter of the country’s unity. Dialogue with these people, this is what Atiku saying,” he said.